Give “Cats” a try

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I went into “Cats” with low expectations, but, contrary to most reviewers, I came out pleasantly surprised. Make no mistake, “Cats” is highly unconventional, and certainly not for everyone, but the show wears its absurdity on its sleeve so convincingly that, as long as you weren’t expecting a great story or deep themes, you can still enjoy seeing it.

“Cats” is a movie adaptation of one of the longest-running Broadway shows, which was itself adapted from T. S. Elliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” A group of London alley cats, calling themselves “Jellicles,” gather every year to audition with a musical number to be chosen to go to “The Heaviside Layer,” granting them a new life.

This is, hands down, the most contrived premise I have ever seen in a story. It’s surreal, too, especially with the human-cat hybrid CGI.

source: imdb

This CGI might have been the most mocked part of the show, but I personally didn’t mind it. The visuals are well-designed enough that they help construct an air of mystical whimsy rather than making things super creepy. It is that whimsy which supports the narrative just enough so it doesn’t crash the show like a lead balloon.

That narrative is probably what weighs down the show the most. The plot of cats competing to be sent to what is basically cat heaven with musical numbers is barely coherent. The tone often shifts jarringly from light to very heavy, as though the writers suddenly decided they needed to say something serious. The plot is generally incomprehensible until the second act, after the arrival of the Jellicle matriarch “Old Deuteronomy,” portrayed by British acting legend Judi Dench.

In fact, the cast of “Cats” has a lot of great talent. Idris Elba plays the villain “Macavity” with a hilarious mania that fits the lighthearted tone. James Cordon plays an equally outrageous “Bustopher Jones,” a literal and completely unapologetic “fat cat.” Jennifer Hudson as “Grizabella” recalls her musical talent during one of the heavy moments that, although it arrives jarringly, has genuinely fantastic emotion. If anything saves the story from itself, allowing one to just enjoy the spectacle, it’s the performances.

Overall, “Cats” is a niche piece of entertainment that happily tosses out coherent storytelling in favor of turning its theatrical elements up to 11. The plot is unapologetically silly and contrived, the computerized effects barely human enough not to be creepy. I encourage people not to dismiss it out of hand, however, and instead enjoy it for what it is: a fun, silly party.